Frescobaldi on a mesotonic-tempered piano

This post could be a bit off-topic, sorry. It’s Frescobaldi, though, and mesotonic, so some of you could be interested.

Yes it’s a modern piano, tuned in mesotonic. The Italian pianist Michele Fontana has recorded on that piano and on an Antegnati organ all the works by Frescobaldi. Playlists on apple music: ‎Frescobaldi Complete Keyboard Works, 2 - Toccate e Partite, Libro Primo di Michele Fontana su Apple Music

And on Spotify: Spotify

Fontana has recorded by himself as he is a sound engineer.

I’ve found an interview where he explains why he decided to play Frescobaldi on piano, which is a somewhat debatable reason: “if we think that playing Bach and Scarlatti on piano it’s nowadays an established habit, then why not Frescobaldi?” (I’d prefer NOT to play Bach and Scarlatti on piano, but still…).
Fontana’s next projects are about recording even Froberger and Michelangelo Rossi on a mesotonic piano.

Interview here: Michele Fontana: là dove si osano nuovi orizzonti interpretativi

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Many thanks to Domenico for drawing attention to Michele Fontana’s recording of Frescobaldi on a meantone-tempered piano and an Antegnati organ.
To judge only from the 29 excerpts offered free by Apple Music, Fontana is a fine interpreter of Frescobaldi, and the piano (mostly) sounds splendid in quarter-comma.
However, I wonder why, as the piano must have been specially tuned for the recording, it was decided to tune E flats in the pieces (e.g tracks 1, 3 and 5) requiring D sharps; the effect of the tiny leading semitone (E flat to E) is disconcerting. Surely, Antegnati himself, builder of organs with split keys for D sharp/E flat and G sharp/A flat, such as that of 1565 at Santa Barbara in Mantua, points the way to the preferred practice of the time, whenever the player/tuner was able to avoid the meantone diminished fourth (e.g. B-E flat).

Oh sorry, it didn’t occur to me I’ve repeatedly used the word “mesotonic” which I don’t even think it exists in English. Please read “meantone” wherever I wrote “mesotonic”.

Sorry for the inconvenience.


It exists.

From the Oxford English Dictionary II online [you need a susbscription, via a big library usually.]

Le 29/06/2023 00:27, Domenico Statuto via The Jackrail écrit :

Oh sorry, it didn’t occur to me I’ve repeatedly used the word
“mesotonic” which I don’t even think it exists in English. Please read
“meantone” wherever I wrote “mesotonic”.


mesotonic, a. Mus.


[f. Gr. µέσο-ς middle + τόν-ος tone + -ic.]

= mean tone adj.

1864 A. J. Ellis in Proc. Roy. Soc. XIII. 408 This is known as the 

System of Mean Tones, or the Mesotonic System, as it will be here
termed. 1896 A. J. Hipkins Pianoforte 103 To extend Mesotonic or Mean
tone tuning to the keys of E flat and A flat major.

Hi Mezzos!
Well, here in France the term mesotonique is still common for tuning. On that subject, for those of you who like tuning Apps on téléphones, I admit to using these, this one is listening based and not by eye. A project by Elisa Barbessi, it’s still in Beta mode but available like this:
type "“TemperApp, CNRS” into google, this goes to here:

Are we heading for a subjet change here? TwM

I’d rather hear Frescobaldi in equal temperament on a harpsichord than Frescobaldi on a meantone piano. It’s not just the tuning, it’s the overall sonority and tonal concept. I look forward to some impossible future where pianists stop appropriating highly nuanced harpsichord music to their instrument, just because they think it has the same keyboard or something. Pet peeve of mine. [/rant off]

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I agree with Andrew. Both the ET and the piano appear to be inconvenient for Frescobaldi, who took care to publish his music so that it was playable on a 14-note split-keys instrument in meantone.

HOWEVERRRR… Frescobaldi advocated ET! Some have observed that the main direct evidence (criticism from Doni) is doubtful, in view of his publishing for meantone. These observations ignore research by Barbieri who shows that Frescobaldi’s ET advice was followed for years by others now-forgotten musicians in Rome.

Therefore, by all means, and especially since most of us do not have the necessary split-sharp keyboard, harpsichord in ET is absolutely correct for Frescobaldi, while any piano will fail to produce the necessary sharp articulation Frescobaldi expected from both harpsichords and organs.

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I agree 100% with Andrew. And not only Frescobaldi. I tried for years to make sense of JSB on the piano and failed miserably. It was only when I encountered historical harpsichords that I found the right instrument for this and earlier keyboard music. It was over 30 before I made that discovery; but I never looked back or changed my mind. (I make exception for the sui generis recordings of Glenn Gould, which are hors de concours.)


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Elissa Barbessi’s beta-mode TemperApp, just shared by Thomas Murach, seems to have many good qualities, not least as a means of learning beat rates by ear.

One obvious graphical shortcoming is that the fractions in the outer circle of the interface, representing temperament of the fifths by part of a comma (e.g. 1/4), are aligned not with the intervals to be tempered (e.g. the fifth C-G) but with the note name letters (e.g. C). This might give the novice the impression that the note itself is to be tempered, rather than the interval between one note and another. If the outer (fractions) circle were to be rotated by 15 degrees in relation to the rest of the diagram, this would be rectified.

Another flaw at the moment is that while the audible tone generated for F with the consonant pitch B flat is indeed an F, that with the consonant pitch C is C an octave higher (albeit apparently with the correct beat rate for F-C).

ah yes, more “piano repertoire” for future conservatory students to frustrate over.

early music enthusiasts bring more and more early music to light and what do they get? more pianists stealing it and pretending like that makes any sense whatsoever.

when it comes to pedagogy, at least online, there seems to be a surprising amount of historical awareness when it comes to other instruments (most violinists nowadays, for example, are aware of the differences between baroque bows and modern bows and might even own a baroque bow and employ it regularily in early music concerts), all a pianist knows about a harpsichord is a rough idea of its sound and the fact that it has no dynamics. i have even had a (piano) teacher tell me that a two manual harpsichord is an appropriate harpsichord for, say, bach’s concerti.

Isn’t it? One of them, bwv 1061, has even some f and p here and there. Or am Ii missing something?

If JSBach specified two manuals for some works, there is no reason why they should also be used in other works, PROVIDED we use them in the way we know JSBach used them (e.g. one manual for each hand, or else a piece on one manual and the Double in another manual, but never a piece on one manual with repeats on another manual).

When Handel famously transcribed dozens of his opera overtures for the solo harpsichord, he reproduced the original Tutti and Solo with f and p, meaning the use of two manuals (which he also did elsewhere in a few pieces).

Accordingly, it makes sense to believe that JSBach would approve such a two-manual playing (even though not specified in the score) for his own transcriptions of over a dozen of concertos for the solo harpsichord. Most recordings of a celebrated one in d minor, derived from an original by Alessandro Marcello, use the two manuals.

as Claudio and Domenico have said, the late 18th century’s ideal harpsichord was (at least in germany, england, france, etc.) a two manual. this shows the deep level of misinformation about the history of instruments before the piano. they learn that bach’s suites are written for dance but not that they’re written for harpsichord.
in the same school i am aware of at least two violin teachers who not only had violin bows themselves, but also encouraged their students to also get similar bows for playing bach, vivaldi, the likes. none such luck with piano teachers